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A Warm Embrace-- T.K. Blue

T.K. Blue, aka Talib Kibwe, is best known for his long tenure as saxophonist, flutist, arranger, and musical director with Randy Weston, who he joined in 1980 after three years with Abdullah Ibrahim. Blue is also Director of Jazz Studies at Long Island University. His playing ranges from ebullient and fiery to tender and lilting, and it's the latter side that is emphasized on this warmhearted recording, where he is fittingly heard on flute for nine of the 13 selections, eight of which are his own beguiling compositions. "I was not very concerned with extended improvisation here," Blue told Willard Jenkins for the liner notes, "more concerned with melody and overall vibe. I was inspired after seeing all the crazy things happening in the world, especially in Connecticut where saxophonist Jimmy Greene lost his daughter [in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy]." The core group for this project, his 10th as a leader, includes pianist James Weidman, with whom Blue has played since the '70's, bassist Essiet Essiet, guitarists Ron Jackson and Russell Malone, drummer Winard Harper, and percussionist Roland Guerrero. Akua Dixon's cello is heard on one track, her entire Quartette Indigo Strings on another, plus vocalist Alana Adderley (Nat's granddaughter) and bassist Paul Beaudry each appear on one tune.

Blue's alto and Dixon's cello blend mellifluously on the swaying, uplifting theme of "A Warm Embrace," with occasional asides by Blue's flute. Dixon's solo is genial and lyrically flowing, while Blue's is vibrant and piercing. Weidman, Essiet, and Harper offer their sensitive, complementary support along the way. For "Tides of Romance," Malone's subtly ringing intro leads to Blue's gliding, resonate rendition of his lovely ballad melody. Harper's impeccable drum work is notable here, as are Essiet's effective bass lines. The surging solos by Blue and Malone are also enhanced by Weidman's understated comping. A darting vamp is laid down for Harper's energetic improv, which makes the subsequent reprise soothingly exhaling in contrast. The Jobim / de Moraes composition "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" (I Know I'm Going to Love You) is gracefully and movingly intoned by Blue's alto flute alongside Jackson and Essiet's delicate and precise accompaniment, overdubbed with the flutist's legato counter lines, for just 3:21 of purely thematic bliss. "Never Felt This Way," from pop singer Brian McKnight, is a familiar song ardently interpreted by Blue on alto, with Essiet's powerful bass, Harper's back beat, and Weidman's generous adornments completing the ingratiating textural flow. Blue's boppish solo prances with vivacious engagement, and Weidman follows in artfully melodic fashion, all capped by an abbreviated reprise.

"Requiem for a Loved 1" (for Benny, Jayne, Ted, Earl, Mulgrew, Shirley, Hotep, Zim, and Sathima) finds Blue unveiling on alto a spiritual ballad theme that is enriched by Malone's glowing guitar and Weidman's fragrant chords. The leader's solo is riveting in its emotional, yearning thrust, and Malone and Weidman capture the piece's essence with added bluesy soulfulness in their ensuing statements. The melody of "The Essence of U" is a bit remindful of the standard "Invitation," as Blue's flute presents it above Jackson's filigreed embellishment's. Guerrero's percussion combines deftly with the Latin pulse set by Essiet and Harper. Weidman's flight sparkles in its cascading, rhythmic progression, and Blue answers with a dancing, breathy trip of his own. "Once Loved" stands out for its beautiful lyrical merger of Blue's alto flute with the violins, viola, and cello of the enduring Quartette Indigo. Both the melody and harmonies are endearing, as is Blue's floating and at times biting solo. The written interlude for the Quartette and succeeding interaction with Blue bring his masterful arrangement to a gratifying conclusion. Weston's alluring waltz, "Portrait of Patsy J," is caressed by Blue's buoyant alto, as he shows his natural ability to spin a constructive and memorable story. Weidman is continually in lockstep with him, including a similarly stimulating improv, and Jackson and Harper also excel in their individual spots.

The joyful "Dance of Passion" unfortunately fades out after two minutes, but not before Blue's flute and Jackson's guitar get to display a generosity of spirit that one wishes they'd had a chance to expand upon. Ralph Carmichael's enchanting "A Quiet Place" receives a reverent treatment by the duo of Blue and Weidman. The full-bodied interaction of alto flute and piano is a lyrical, openhearted treat. The wistful and happy "Goodbye is Not 4-Ever" is highlighted by appealingly diverse solos from Jackson, Blue, Weidman, and Essiet, the flute and bass outings more sharp-edged than the others' more even-tempered expressions. "When Sunny Gets Blue" is sung by Adderley with a refined and charming voice that possesses a distinctive vibrato, and goes exceedingly well with Blue's alto flute tonalities. "Dance of Love Never-Ending" is a rapturous Blue tune that recalls the days of Pharoah Sanders with Leon Thomas, made particularly rewarding through Essiet's hypnotic bass patterns, but alas cut short much too soon.

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Scott Albin